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Dana, or generosity, is top of several traditional Buddhist lists of fine ethical qualities to be cultivated. For any Triratna Centre, there’s a big decision: charge for classes or retreats and run the risk that some people will be put off booking, or run a “Dana economy” – relying entirely on donations - and risk a financial shortfall?
Samachitta is Chair of Birmingham Buddhist Centre (UK). She writes: “All Buddhist classes at the Birmingham Buddhist Centre have been free since 2009.
Before that our Sangha Night was by donation, and there was a charge “on the door” for our Thursday Newcomers’ Night. Today the only activities we charge for are yoga and retreats in hired premises.”
“Since 2008-09 our class income has risen, from almost £11,000 to nearly £16,000 and over the past five years the number of new people coming along to our Centre has more than doubled!
One reason must be the explicit message that there is no charge for our classes. Other factors will include the many improvements we have made to the building, our publicity, and the way the Centre is run. And there are societal trends stimulating greater interest in Buddhism.
When we moved fully to the dana economy, we realised that we would have to keep asking for donations. At all our classes for newcomers and regulars we make an appeal in the tea break. On study nights, every so often, we ask for standing orders (recurring donations).
Since 2008/09 our general donations have doubled, from £25,000 to £50,000, which, given the turnover of contributors, has required quite a bit of work.
We are very happy to operate a dana economy in Birmingham, despite the challenges it sometimes presents. It feels congruent to be able to offer the Dharma to anyone who is interested, regardless of their circumstances, and it is pleasing that the Centre is able to model a non-reciprocal financial relationship with the sangha.
Asking for money, whether at classes or in seeking standing orders, is a spiritual practice in itself and it reminds us all of the importance and beauty of dana as a way of relating to others.”
Sheffield Buddhist Centre also runs a highly successful dana economy. Read more.